Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Is Grossman A Twin For The Future?

On May 20th, Robbie Grossman made his debut with the Minnesota Twins. After starting the year in the Cleveland Indians organization, Grossman saw opportunity through the Twins farm system and jumped ship. Playing just one game with the Rochester Red Wings, Grossman was headed to the big leagues. The question now is should he stay there, at least for the Twins.

In the 2008 Major League Baseball draft, Robbie Grossman was a 6th round pick out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was rated the 76th best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus prior to the 2012 season, and he made his big league debut in 2013 with the Houston Astros. Through his first three big league seasons Grossman owned a .240/.327/.341 slash line. He never flashed any real power, but was a solid on base contributor.

For the Twins, Grossman has experienced nothing short of a revolution. In 64 games with Minnesota, Grossman owns a .266/.392/.436 slash line. He's hit a career best seven home runs, and his 14 doubles tie him for a career mark with 49 games left to go. His defense has been anything but average. With a -12 DRS number and a -7.2 UZR, Fangraphs sees him as essentially Josh Willingham out in left field for Minnesota.

Right now, Grossman's contribution to the 2016 version of the Minnesota Twins is largely irrelevant. Really though, that's only because it's a microcosm of what the 2016 Twins have become. This is a lost season for Paul Molitor's squad, and no results are going to matter much in the grand scheme of things. What Grossman is doing, and is fighting for, is a place on this team and in the organization going forward.

So, what exactly does that look like? Well, Grossman's bat has played to a capable, if not above average level. His power is not along the lines of a corner outfielder, but his advanced on base rate is something any time would enjoy putting ahead of power hitters in their lineup. In the outfield though, he's essentially been the 2012 version of Josh Willingham, and could finish the year with worse numbers than the 2008 version of Delmon Young. Weighing out both the detractors as well as contributions, the next place to look is at the competition.

At Triple-A, there's only two realistic big league prospects; Adam Brett Walker and Daniel Palka. A level further down, Zach Granite and Travis Harrison could be in play, but won't be ready come Opening Day 2017. So, let's take a look at the two current Triple-A options.

Both Palka and Walker present similar skillsets. They are hitters first, with a ton of power, and a relatively high strikeout rate. Walker has the weaker arm of the two, but is also the one on the 40 man roster. Palka was acquired prior to 2016 in exchange for former Twins backstop Chris Herrmann. Between Double and Triple-A in 2016, Palka is slashing .264/.343/.533 with 27 homers, 141 strikeouts, and 51 walks. Adam Brett Walker has played the entire season at Triple-A and owns a .243/.310/.481 line with 22 homers, 164 strikeouts, and 37 walks. Being on the 40 man, it's a pretty good bet he may see time with the Twins in September.

So, where does that leave us to open the 2017 season, and what is Robbie Grossman up against? Let's assume that the starting outfield includes Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario from right to left. Buxton is probably the biggest question mark of the group, but you can bet a new GM will be wanting to make sure he rights the former consensus top overall prospect's ship. With Danny Santana continuing to be loved by the organization, and out of options, he seems a good bet to return as a utility player that draws a good deal of time as a rotating outfielder. In this scenario, you've probably got room for one more true outfielder on the 25 man roster.

If it comes down to whether or not the Twins keep Robbie Grossman, or roll with one of either Daniel Palka or Adam Brett Walker, a smart choice could be in choosing one of the latter two. Walker doesn't have nearly the on base prowess, and while Palka doesn't either, he's not as far removed. Both of the Twins home grown options have a significantly more realistic power component to their game though, and should play defense at least at a comparable level.

My opinion relies largely upon two factors: What happens to Byron Buxton, and what can you get for Robbie Grossman? If Buxton isn't on the 2017 Twins Opening Day roster (things are bad already), that means Eddie Rosario is your starting centerfielder, leaving left field up for grabs. In that scenario, carrying both Robbie Grossman and one of the two Triple-A guys could make a lot of sense.

To answer the second question, the Twins will have to do their homework. Experiencing a solid season at the age of 26, and turning 27 prior to the 2017 season, Grossman still arguably has his prime ahead of him. Not arbitration eligible until 2018, and not a free agent until 2021, he could be a nice piece for a club closer to contending. If the return is worthy of flipping him and going with the other internal options, I'd put some serious thought into it.

For now, Robbie Grossman has played himself into a realistic big league roster spot for the forseeable future. Whether or not that continues to be with the Twins or not is the only thing yet to be determined. The pieces are still moving, but they should work themselves out.

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